Chapter 162: Intermission
My gaze remained on Tess. She was smiling—laughing, even—from relief and embarrassment as she wiped away her tears.
This was my first time seeing my childhood friend after the ceremony where I was given the title of a lance, but it had been even longer since the last time we had spoken.
Since then, the elven princess had changed. There was a faint scar just along her hairline above her right ear that would’ve gone unnoticed had she not tied up her hair. Scars from battles were visible all over her arms while her left forearm had a fresh bandage wrapped around it.
“You’re hurt,” I noted, gently tracing the line of blood seeping through her bandage with my fingers.
Noticing my sullen expression, she grabbed onto my scarred hand tenderly with both hands. “Oh please, I have more injuries from attempting to cook than from actually fighting.”
I let out a wry chuckle at the thought. I didn’t pull away from her grasp. Despite the callouses on her palms and fingers, her hand felt soft and warm compared to mine.
Tessia continued to voice her concern, shaking her head. “Do you have any idea how scared I was when I heard the news from my captain?”
“Your captain? Does that mean you were promoted to a head?” I asked, staring at the stunned expression on the princess.
“You’re unbelievable. Your thoughts immediately go to whether I got promoted to a head? You almost died, Arthur!”
“I’m just glad you’re doing well,” I replied with a grin.
Tess let out a sigh, leaning her head on my arm. “I don’t even have the strength to argue with you.”
I let out a chuckle, squeezing Tess’s hand. Time seemed to slow down for a brief moment as the two of us stayed like this in silence.
“You took such careful measures to make sure everyone would be safe that I never even thought how dangerous this war would be for you.” Tess lifted her head, gazing upward at me with her brilliant turquoise eyes. “Seeing you like this in a bed full of injuries, it was a cold reminder that you’re only human and not some indestructible mage and warrior.
I chortled. “Is that how I look to you most of the time? Some indestructible figure?”
“With the emotional maturity of a toddler,” she finished with a wide grin.
“Is that any way to talk to a general?” I scolded, trying to keep a serious face as she struggled to do the same.
“My apologies, General Arthur,” she replied, laughter in her voice.
Suddenly, the door to my room burst open. Stumbling inside was Virion Eralith, the commander of the entire Dicathen military and his son Alduin Eralith, followed by his wife, my younger sister Eleanor, Sylvie, and a couple of guards. Behind them was Eleanor’s eight-foot-tall bear casually chewing on a slab of meat with disinterest in his eyes at the turn of events.
The room turned silent once more. Tessia’s parents and my own sister feigned ignorance of the situation, refusing to make eye contact with us. The guards awkwardly shuffled away while Virion coughed uncomfortably as he straightened out his robe.
The commander of Dicathen cleared his throat, his gaze wandering around the room as he tried to keep a dignified demeanor.
“Grandpa?” Tess exclaimed, dumbfounded.
“I see you haven’t spent much effort furnishing this room, Arthur,” he noted, still unable to look us in the eyes.
“You guys were eavesdropping?” Tess’s face was beet red while she raised an accusatory finger at her family.
Virion wagged a finger in denial. “Of course not, dear. We were simply overhearing the well-being of Arthur, a prized general that had been tragically—”
The commander was unable to finish his excuse as he dodged a book Tess had picked up from the nightstand and thrown at him.
I let out a chuckle, sitting up on my bed as my gaze fixed on my sister awkwardly holding onto my bond.
‘Your sister has been patiently waiting for you to wake up,’ Sylvie informed.
It hadn’t been that long since I had last seen my sister, yet it felt like only now that I noticed how big she’d gotten. I couldn’t call her my baby sister anymore.
“Come here, Ellie,” I said gently.
My little sister’s lower lip trembled as tears began flooding down her face. Letting go of my bond, she bolted into my arms, nearly knocking the wind out of me.
“I was so worried!” she said angrily, her voice breaking down into sobs. “What would’ve happened if you had died?!”
“I’m okay, El,” I coaxed as her face remained buried in my chest. I reached up to stroke my sister’s brown hair when I noticed that the injuries I had gotten from the witch-like retainer were still there. My expression darkened at the sight of the ugly red scar that spread all over my left hand up to my wrist as if the skin had been burned off. The injury had diminished greatly and appeared as if it were a few years old thanks to Sylvie’s vivum abilities, but my entire hand had turned a shade of sickly pink.
Boo, Ellie’s bond, regarded me with a suspicious eye as he gnawed on the bone of the meat, but allowed me to continue embracing his master.
Sylvie casually hopped onto my bed and curled up beside me. She didn’t say anything, but a wave of relief flooded from my bond.
After the initial chaos had subsided, Alduin and Merial had to depart due to problems with one of the elven cities up north. My sister remained a bundle of sniffles and hiccups for awhile as her emotions swayed from sorrow and guilt all the way to anger.
Rubbing the tears from her eyes, Ellie’s gaze landed on my scarred hand. “How could you let yourself get hurt like this?”
“Scars fade,” I said with a weak smile, hoping to dismiss her concerns.
Physical appearances had never been of great importance to me, but it was still a bit nerve-wracking to see how bad of a mark my injuries had left behind. Working up the courage, I carefully got out of bed, making sure my legs were able to carry me.
Standing up on my own two legs without the help of mana was a blessing that I had always taken for granted. I took slow and steady steps toward the mirror as everyone in the room watched with apprehension.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up to study my reflection and I was immediately able to see the toll the battle with the retainer had taken on my body. Even without taking off my robe, my gaze immediately landed on my neck. The same red scars that covered my hand and wrist had been branded across my throat.
Untying the band across my waist, I slipped out of my robe so I was only wearing my undergarment.
Wow, I’m a mess.
‘You could’ve been a lot worse off,’ Sylvie chimed, her usual curtness gone.
Scars of varying lengths were littered all over my toned body like chips and cracks on an ancient statue weathered by time and the forces of nature. More of the red scars were visible across my shoulder and part of my back. The scars that ran down my waist down to my knees were particularly gruesome—as if someone had torn apart me legs piece by piece and crudely stitched together.
“Consider it a godsend that you were even able to recover to the state you’re in now,” a clear voice sounded, rousing me from my thoughts.
Casting a sideways glance, I caught sight of the three-eyed asura, Aldir, stepping into my room.
“Master,” Tess greeted, getting up from her seat. My childhood friend’s cheeks were flushed as she awkwardly positioned herself away from me.
Realizing that it was probably my lack of clothing that made her uncomfortable, I slipped back into my robe before greeting the asura. “Aldir.”
“Arthur Leywin.” he nodded before dipping his head at Sylvie. “Lady Sylvie.”
“What you said just now. What did you mean?” I asked, taking a seat beside Virion on the leather couch.
Sitting down across from us next to Tess, he pointed his finger toward a ring on his left finger. “Do you remember the elixir pearl Windsom had given you a few years ago? The one you never used?”
After searching inside my dimension ring, I couldn’t find the gold-flecked pearl that I had saved in order to help me break into the white core stage. “What happened to it?”
“It’s what gave your body the strength to recover to the state you’re in now,” the asura let out a sigh, straightening out his deep lavender robe. “Even with a team of lessers specializing in medical mana arts as well as Lady Sylvie using her aether arts—albeit inexperienced—it still took the full effects of the powerful elixir to heal you.”
“I’m guessing you or Windsom aren’t allowed to give me another elixir, right?” I asked hopefully.
The three-eyed asura shook his head. “Since the war has started, we can’t risk the treaty being broken.”
“Damn,” I cursed, leaning my head back on the couch.
“Sorry to kick you while you’re down, but I thought you might still want this,” Virion chimed in, taking out Dawn’s Ballad from his dimension ring. “I was able to secure your sword from the retainer’s corpse.”
My heart sank as I was handed the once stunning sword. The translucent teal blade of Dawn’s Ballad had dulled while its tip had been melted away by the retainer’s corrosive abilities, throwing off the delicate balance of the sword.
Sheathing it in its scabbard I had been carrying inside my ring, I idly stared at the palm my right hand. Wren had embedded a gem he had refined himself called acclorite that was supposed to somehow turn into a special weapon.
Now would be a great time for a new weapon, I thought to my hand.
‘Arthur,’ Sylvie’s voice sounded. ‘I told Aldir some of the events that occurred but I think it’d be best if you went over it with him and Virion in detail.’
Slowly getting up from my seat, I walked over to my little sister who’d been silent the whole time. “Ellie. Can you wait for me outside while I talk over some stuff?”
Raising a skeptical brow, she replied, “Only if you promise not to leave without at least saying goodbye.”
Scratching my cheek, I let out a wry chuckle. “I promise.”
“Fine.” She got up from her seat and walked toward the door before looking back over her shoulder with a proud expression. “I wanted to show you what I’ve been working on.”
“Oh?” I raised a brow, thinking she was referring to a spell she had been practicing. “I can’t wait!”
After my sister closed the door behind her, the only ones left inside my room was the current commander of Dicathen, an asura, my bond, and Tessia.
“Let me catch you up on what happened since the battle with the retainer,” I began.
“Wait. Let’s call an official meeting with the rest of the Council,” Virion interrupted, getting up.
“No. I want this to be heard by your ears only. What you choose to do with this information is up to you.”
Tess raised a timid hand. “Should I leave?”
“It’s fine.” I shook my head. “Before I start though, I just want to know one thing.”
“And what would that be?” Aldir replied, taking note that my gaze was directed at him.
“Who has control over the Mica Earthborn and Alfred Warned, the two dwarven lances—you, or Rahdeas?”
The asura’s single purple eye that was open narrowed in thought as he continued staring at me. “I’m still currently in control over the two lances. Why do you ask?”
It took longer than I’d expected to debrief them of the events that followed after the battle with the retainer.
As expected, Virion and Tessia were dumbfounded by the evident betrayal from the dwarves. Aldir’s expression remained steadfast; if he was surprised, he did a perfect job concealing it.
Despite the initial surprise, however, Virion recovered quickly. “If the dwarves are really in alliance with the Alacryan army, then it’ll be much harder to prevent battles from reaching civilian cities. Were you able to discern whether it was just a separate faction of dwarves or if it was more large-scale than that?”
“I can’t say with certainty without getting some answers out of Rahdeas,” I said through gritted teeth, regretful of the circumstances implicating Elijah’s former guardian.
“The news of a scythe appearing is troubling,” Aldir added. “If she intends to wreak havoc with her retainer by her side as well as an entire division of troops, then this isn’t something one or two lances can take on even with an army backing them.”
“Which is why I need to know where the allegiance of two dwarven lances lie,” I replied. “A large-scale battle is nearing and I don’t want any unforeseen obstacles.”